Al Golden's recent dialogue with Penn State raised some unexpected, yet warranted questions regarding overall team morale. How would the Miami Hurricanes respond as a unit, knowing their head coach was said to be contemplating a career move?
Theories of a divided team were put to rest when four key players chose to stick around for their senior seasons.
Miami will return linebacker Denzel Perryman, defensive end Anthony Chickillo, tight end Clive Walford and offensive tackle Jon Feliciano—all of whom will add necessary depth and leadership for the Hurricanes in 2014.
Which returning Miami Hurricanes senior will have the greatest impact in 2014?
Walford was quick to announce his comeback minutes after Miami's bowl loss to Louisville, while Chickillo and Perryman mulled their options until early January—both eventually seeing the benefit in one more season at "The U."
All players submitted their paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board, awaited responses and made their decisions accordingly—which sounds like a no-brainer process but isn't always the case.
Two years ago, Miami saw a mass exodus. Five key players made the early leap to the NFL—all of whom did so without seeking counsel and properly weighing their options. Golden, having just wrapped his first season in Coral Gables, was stunned at his players' lack of homework, which made for some ill-advised decisions.
"In 15 years of coaching, I've never seen that," Golden told Jorge Milian at the Palm Beach Post in spring 2012. "It's a function of what the young person is listening to."
Things turned out good enough for defensive end Olivier Vernon and running back Lamar Miller, who went in the third and fourth rounds.
Wide receiver Tommy Streeter, defensive tackle Marcus Forston and offensive tackle Brandon Washington didn't fare as well. Streeter and Washington both wound up sixth-round picks, while Forston—a former 5-star prospect—went undrafted. All remain on NFL rosters, but none reached their projected potential, and all could've used another season at the collegiate level.
Though Golden might not have had enough time to get through to a handful of players in Year 1, that's no longer the case. Perryman, Chickillo, Walford and Feliciano all played under Golden and staff for three seasons and the decision to stay helps build a case for an overall culture change and buy-in at The U.
Former cornerback Ryan Hill had some choice words for his beloved program in summer 2012, months after his career at Miami came to a close and soon after the NFL draft. Hill spoke of players mocking former head coach Randy Shannon behind his back, while divulging that snowball fights took place on the sideline of the Sun Bowl when Miami was down 21-0 to Notre Dame. The culture was absolutely broken.
In my early years at UM, there were guys who were freshmen who acted like adults—Jon Beason, Teraz McCray, Greg Olsen. When I was a senior last year, some sophomores and juniors acted like freshmen. Guys would do silly stuff like pulling their pants down, wearing crazy stuff.
Guys would come late to meetings. They would schedule appointments and not show up or listen to iPods in class. I was always told by academic advisors to talk to [teammates]. Some kids got worse after they got here. People were purposely doing stuff to mock Randy Shannon or do their own thing.
Coach Shannon tried to make sure guys went to class and presented themselves well. But as soon as he turned his back, they would do what they wanted. There are a lot of guys who didn't produce, and how they act off the field has a lot to do with it. That has to change.
Hill also alluded to a pot culture at Miami, players beating the system and Golden having his hands full trying to change all that.
Three years later, it appears the Hurricanes are finally set to turn the corner.
Miami has 26 verbal commitments for the 2014 recruiting class—and more potentially on the way, with coaches ready to chase down more prospects as the "dead period" ends January 15.
The next three weekends will feature top talent on campus. Golden and staff will work to firm up commitments while reeling in or flipping some on-the-fence players.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya highlights this weekend's bunch, while Miami continues firming things up with defensive tackle Anthony Moten, linebacker Mike Smith, safety Marques Gayot, tight end Chris Herndon, wide receiver Darrell Langham and defensive end Demetrius Jackson—who's been on Texas Tech's radar since the Red Raiders flipped former 'Canes cornerback commit Nigel Bethel II.
Raymon Minor, a 4-star athlete, will also be on campus this weekend—a Virginia product leaning toward the in-state Hokies.
Next weekend, the 'Canes will host current Southern Cal commit 3-star linebacker Olajuwon Tucker, 3-star Oregon commit safety Glen Ihenacho, Georgia commit 4-star defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard and 3-star defensive end Grant Harris, who appears split between Miami and Mississippi State.
Travonte Valentine—a 4-star defensive tackle, choosing between Miami and LSU—will give the Hurricanes his last visit on January 31, as will quarterback Treon Harris, cornerback Patrick Porter and athlete Deiondre Porter, committed to Florida State, South Florida and Washington State, respectively.
The influx of new talent coupled with returning veterans is something that Golden hasn't yet had the past three seasons. Aside from the handful of departing juniors and seniors the past two years, Miami only signed a 20-player class last February—all of which hurt overall depth but can be remedied between now and fall.
Keep the recruiting class intact, haul in a few surprises and make the most of some early enrollees—all while driving home the loyalty, commitment and belief shown by the return of this talented senior class.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.com.
**Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.